Remake/Remodel

I guess it’s time for me to weigh in on the issue of remakes.

As you can probably guess, I’m not a huge fan. Remaking a film is probably the laziest thing a studio can do. It’s one notch up from stealing the idea altogether, but at least we can assume that the original writers are getting paid.

However, I’m not going to make a blanket statement like “all remakes suck,” because that’s asinine. First of all, not every movie that gets remade was that great to begin with. Second, some films can actually benefit from an updated version. The best example of a good remake will probably always be John Carpenter‘s The Thing (1982). I can’t imagine a better remake ever being made. Hopefully history will prove me wrong. Because Pazuzu knows, they ain’t gonna stop churning them out.

But The Thing was a rarity. The original film, The Thing from Another World (1951), was based on a short story by John W. Campbell called Who Goes There?. So even that film was an adaptation. The remake was, according to some accounts, closer to the original story than the first film. On top of that, by 1981 special effects and cinematography had evolved to the point that they were able to convey ideas and images that would have been impossible to achieve in the 50s. It also didn’t hurt that John Carpenter was a fairly original filmmaker on a hot streak, not some hack hired by the studios to perpetuate a stock franchise. As good as the first film was, Carpenter’s version was a revelation.

Nowadays, the well appears to have dried up considerably. While horror movies continue to be a huge box office draw, the studios seem disinclined to take chances on original material. Thus, we have the Saw franchise and its variants, remakes of Japanese ghost stories, and remakes of North American horror films from the 70s and 80s.

Not all of these remakes are terrible. Some are admirably fearless and true to the source (The Hills Have Eyes, 2006). Some are so pointless that I refuse to even watch them (sorry Wicker Man 2006, not gonna do it). Most are generic retreads that fail to even capitalize on the best ideas of their source material.

Since we were on an 80s slasher kick, we felt it made sense to check out some of the remakes of these films. So in the past week, we watched both My Bloody Valentine (2009) and Friday the 13th (2009).

Both of these remakes succeeded in capturing the bare minimum of what made the originals fun: tits and blood. If either of these had been PG-13, it would have been a total wash-out. But from there, the quality diverged noticeably.

MBV 2009 was a fun, shlocky update of the original film. Personally, I would have chucked the love triangle and made it more of an ensemble piece, focusing on the lives of the miners (as was attempted, with mixed results, in the original). But they did provide a decent twist on the plot of the first film. In fact, there was almost too much plot, as I found myself asking, “does it really matter who the killer is at this point?” Honestly, MBV would work just as well if it was really Harry Warden, the escaped mental patient, doing all the killing. All we need to know is that it’s a pissed off guy in a gas mask. Still, kudos to the writers for trying to keep us guessing in between all the flying body parts.

There were even a few touches that made it seem that if the writers weren’t old school fans, they at least respected the material. Two of the original film’s memorable set pieces remained more or less intact: one involving a washing machine, and one where a bunch of miner’s uniforms drop down from the ceiling to menace a character. The killer’s outfit and look are also fairly close to the original, retaining the same cool menace.

This was the most boring still I could find from MBV 3-D.

The presence of Tom Atkins as the sheriff was also a nice touch. He wasn’t in the original, but did appear in plenty of classic 80s horror movies (The Fog, Halloween III, Night of the Creeps), so it was nice to see him on board. Also providing contrast to the pretty young faces was veteran character actor Kevin Tighe, who I will always remember as Nick’s dad on Freaks and Geeks.

Friday the 13th, on the other hand, was fairly awful. An interview on the disc featured the writers talking about how they were huge fans of the series, and they felt the most important elements to carry over were kids partying and having sex and then getting killed.

Now, I’m not going to claim to be the world’s biggest F13 fan, nor will I claim that these were classic films that worked on multiple levels. F13 was always a trashy, lowbrow franchise, and of the four I’ve seen (Parts 1 through 4), none were particularly great.

But it can be argued that there were elements beyond violence and sex which made these films resonate so strongly with audiences throughout the 80s and 90s. The creepy relationship between the deformed boy and his psychotic mother being one, and the isolation of the forest setting being another.

The good ole days.

After the first two films, these elements were basically abandoned. From Part 3 onward, there was no more Camp Crystal Lake. Most of the events took place in or around a decidedly non-creepy house with a seemingly arbitrary proximity to the lake. The kids were not isolated so much by geography as by their own self-absorption. The mother subplot occasionally cropped up as an afterthought, but for the most part, the franchise became focused on an increasingly roided-out superhuman killer intent on destroying everyone in his path.

Sadly, this was what the remake chose to focus on as well. The events of the first two films are dispensed with in the first 15 minutes of the movie, leaving us with what is basically a remake of Parts 3 and 4, except without the racially harmonious biker gang or the plucky horror fan kid next door to hold our interest.

There are plenty of tits (a few of them even real!) and plenty of gore, but otherwise this is interchangeable with any other slasher from the past decade. The characters don’t seem to have any connection to one another, instead being a random collection of stereotypes thrown together in a house (which I guess could be another nod to Parts 3 and 4). The reason for Jason’s killing spree is brushed over so quickly that it’s possible that if you knew nothing about the series before seeing this film, you might surmise that Jason is killing people because they messed with his weed crop (yes, Jason has a weed crop in this movie. No, I do not know what significance this holds. You can almost hear the writers going, “Dude…what if Jason is like, growing some killer kind buds out in the forest!” Hi five!).

Efforts to “expand” on the original series by showing Jason holding a girl prisoner in his underground lair while sharpening his machete and having flashbacks about mommy seem like an attempt to throw every serial killer cliche into the mix. The original films were unique because we rarely saw Jason when he wasn’t stalking or killing. I don’t recall there ever being a POV from the perspective of a victim watching or spying on Jason. It was usually the other way around. By switching things around so that we’re the ones observing Jason, and by trying to make him seem more “human,” the filmmakers destroy what little tension there was to begin with.

Granted, I did list the mommy issues as being central to the creepy vibe of the first two movies. But the seemingly arbitrary way in which they are tossed around here seems a touch too irreverent. Maybe I missed the point, and maybe these writers really are bigger fans than me (they did pen Freddy Vs. Jason, after all). But how hard can it be to make a movie about people being stalked in the forest that is both fun and scary?

I’m pretty sure that civilization is going to end with the forthcoming remake of I Spit on Your Grave (1978). But if it doesn’t, hopefully we’ll see horror remakes taking their cue more from My Bloody Valentine and less from Friday the 13th.

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2 Responses to “Remake/Remodel”

  1. Shawn Francis Says:

    You’ve forgotten three more classics that got remade that are just as good as their original counterparts: THE INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (’78), THE FLY (’86) and THE BLOB (’88).

    I was traumatized by THE THING when I first saw it at the local Drive-In. Couldn’t get past the scene after Windows walks in and discovers Bennings being taken over. I freaked out, ran back to the car (me and my friend were watching it outside, way up front near the swingsets) and laid down in back. My mother and my brother were there watching it, and all I could do was listen to the flick and the remarks of horror my mother would call out with from time to time when things got bloody.

    A definite Memory Movie if there ever was one.

  2. roarvis Says:

    I guess I don’t mind remakes of films from the 1950s and earlier. Not sure why exactly – maybe there is more room to update them. I tend to find that the changes made to films from the 70s and 80s when remade are usually not improvements.

    I love the ’78 version of Body Snatchers. I thought the ’88 Blob was too over the top with the gore and violence, but I haven’t seen it since I was a kid and might feel different now. Likewise, I haven’t seen the Fly since I was very young. Last time I tried to watch it, Jeff Goldblum was annoying me and I moved on to something else.

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